Myles was an intelligent, talented and caring young person. He loved learning and was an honor roll student. He was an active member in his school’s jazz band, concert band and choir, as well as being involved in many other extra-curricular activities. He loved his friends and family and was admired by teachers and other adults. He had goals for the future – he wanted to travel and go to university. Despite these wonderful things, Myles struggled with addiction and mental health issues throughout his teens. We tried and he tried but despite our best efforts to get help, Myles is no longer with us today. This is our journey through the system.
The older Myles got the more he suffered from anxiety and depression which led to self-harm and suicide attempts. Myles’ first suicide attempt was only weeks after his 15th birthday. That is when we really started being tossed around the system. At this point, Myles started seeing a therapist as well as a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist immediately put him on an anti-depressant without even doing a full assessment of the psychological issues. A couple of months passed then Myles ended up spending 3 weeks in the psychiatric ward of a hospital because of extreme self-harm and suicidal ideation. It was during this hospital stay that we found out that Myles had started self-medicating.
Myles drug use was quite severe involving IV drugs and he was very upfront and honest about it. After further evaluation in the hospital, they decided to put Myles on a wait list to get a psych assessment done. I still don’t understand why this wasn’t done while he was in the hospital. As a parent, I was horrified and panicked when I realized that he was using drugs and the only support I got from the counsellors at the hospital was some pamphlets. I was told that “There is no way he was doing those types of drugs because drugs like that are hard for someone his age to get.” They completely downplayed his drug use and didn’t take it as seriously as it needed to be. I then reached out to the counsellor that he had been seeing outside the hospital and she also blew off my concerns about IV drug use. As a parent, you don’t know what to do and when you have professionals not taking the situation seriously you start to doubt yourself. It was very frustrating and heartbreaking at the time.
After his discharge from the hospital, Myles continued seeing his therapist while we waited for a psych assessment, as well as admittance into a dual diagnosis outpatient program at an addiction clinic. During this time Myles and I grew more and more frustrated with the wait. His mental health was declining and he was growing increasingly upset with the lack of support we were receiving. We ended up taking Myles to the United States to get a brain scan and psych assessment done so that we could move forward with treatment before things got any worse. Myles came back with a full diagnosis and a suggested treatment plan only to have our doctors and therapists refuse to even look at it. They said that they wouldn’t look at any form of treatment until an assessment was done here. Finally, eight months after his initial hospital visit, Myles was brought in for his psych assessment and intake for the addiction centre. By this time his addiction was worsening.
It was at this point that I found out that almost all programs in our province of Alberta for at-risk youth are voluntary and that as a parent there is not much I could do in terms of getting help for my son unless he was willing. This means that we are leaving life-altering and/or threatening decisions up to a kid who already has an underdeveloped brain, complex mental health issues and a drug addiction. Luckily Myles was willing to take part in this outpatient program even though things were getting worse.
Then there was another suicide attempt and hospital stay. This time they were able to keep him under the Mental Health Act. However, they ended up discharging him within days, even though his therapist, psychiatrist and I advocated for the full 30 days. After getting out of the hospital this time, his drug use spiraled out of control. Luckily, Alberta has The Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act (PCHAD), so I got an order and had him placed in mandatory detox (which is only for a maximum of 10 days). It was while Myles was in PCHAD that he reported that he had been exploited by an older man online and that’s how he got money as well as drugs. This is when the organization that runs The Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act (PSECA) got involved and moved him to a protective program. I thought finally things are starting to happen – he is going to get the help he needs, but that thought was short lived.
We were made aware that the only way they could keep him in these residential programs (which are not secure programs – youth are able to come and go if they want to) was to sign a custody agreement with Child and Family Services. As a parent, I found this idea horrifying; however, I was desperate for my son’s life and would do whatever I could to get him help. Child and Family Services ended up staying involved even though we had a tough time convincing them. It was an issue because there were no protective concerns with me, it was Myles who was a threat to himself and apparently that doesn’t necessarily fall under their mandate.
Myles spent the next few months in a temporary residential program while a team of professionals looked for a proper placement for him. There ended up not being a suitable placement that could address his complex mental health needs and his addiction in all of Alberta.
So, Myles remained in the residential care that he started out in for the rest of the year. During this time, he lost his battle and passed away at the age of 17.
Myles knew he couldn’t control himself. He knew he would benefit from a program that he couldn’t leave on his own and that was structured and secure. There were times that he would beg and cry and flat out said, “What do I need to do to get secured…start hurting myself again?” Yet there was nothing we could do. When the program offered him more freedoms he declined initially because he said, “I can’t control myself”. Myles knew he needed to stop but it was too hard for him without the external controls.
Our system for getting young people the help they need with mental health and addiction must change in this country. We are failing them. Myles didn’t have to die and neither do all the other at-risk youth. They deserve to have every opportunity to be functioning members of society. We struggled to get proper help for over two years, but the process took way too long.
We are not the only family who has lost their child because the system failed them.
By Christina Sackett